My way cool sister Susan introduced me to cannoli, quadzillions of years ago.
We were on a bus in the dark, on the way home from Quincy Market in Boston, and she pulled out a pastry box. I’d never had one. It was like being hooked on a new drug. As soon as I’d finished one, I needed another.
We did not grow up among cannoli. That would have been adventuresome food, and we did not come from a family which believed in adventuresome food. My mother, I’ve come to realize over the years, did not like to cook, and with the exception of an occasional foray into Cooking Down East, very rarely produced anything other than standard kitchen fare: potatoes, meat, frozen vegetables. Sometimes we even got macaroni and cheese. Sometimes spaghetti and meatballs. That just about covered it. Sad, because I’d heard rumors that when my mother was younger and living in New York City, she had a soft spot for knishes.
So Italian pastry, produced on a bus late at night by my sister, was a thrill. Quite frankly, it still is a thrill, wherever I happen to come across it.
The best part is that I’ve learned to make it. Well, cannoli, anyway. You see, the heathens and I are into adventuresome food–we’re actually into adventures, but if we don’t have the wherewithal to get to foreign countries, we make dinners with foreign foods and pretend we’re somewhere else. We’ve done full-fledged Parisian meals, including pate made from scratch. We’ve done some Tuscan dinners. We just get these ideas about where we’d like to be, and then we make the food to fuel our fantasy lives.
For one of our culinary adventures, I found a recipe for cannoli for our dessert.
They were easier to make than I thought they might be; the only catch I ran into was in my search for cannoli tubes for the pastry–there aren’t that many places to find those here in the woods of central Maine. But speaking of wood–we have plenty of that: I improvised with dowels cut to size, and that worked out just fine.
These days I see it as my job to evangelize some of my students: last year I made cannoli for my entire seventh period class, as none of them had ever had one. A couple of days ago I did the same for my sixth period writing class, though one young person, Alix, was not a cannoli virgin, as it were, since her older brother now lives just outside of Boston. I must say that giving teenagers cannoli is a good way to win friends and influence people. And it was more than a little bit amusing to watch one of the guys, Josh, poke at the pastry hesitantly before asking how one actually ate one of those. Pick it up, instructed one of the other boys, and just do your best. Suffice it to say that there were many cannoli cheese accidents before the class period was through.
Thus, for anyone needing to impress people, make friends with teenagers, or just get wicked fat, I present
The Cannoli Recipe!
You can make the shells ahead of time and refrigerate them. You should fill them as close to serving time as possible, though, or they could become soggy.
For the shells:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
3/4 cup Marsala wine (though sometimes, you just have to use plain old cooking sherry)
2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
For the filling:
1 15 oz container of Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips
confectioners sugar for dusting
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and wine. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until well mixed.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
Roll out the dough until very thin. The dough is tough, so you can get a good workout here. Using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass, cut dough into 4-inch rounds, and roll again until very thin, and a bit wider in diameter.
Roll each piece tightly around a cannoli tube. Seal with egg white. (I used my 3/4 inch dowels here. Sealing with egg white is important, because you don’t want the dough to unroll while cooking.)
Heat the vegetable oil in a deep 3.5 quart pot to 350 degrees.
Place the dough forms in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 2-3 minutes, turning to make sure all sides get browned. Drain on paper towels. Cool and gently twist tube to remove shell from form.
In another large mixing bowl beat sugar, vanilla and ricotta together until smooth, then stir in the chocolate chips. (I save some out to garnish the ends.)
Spoon filling into a pastry bag with a large round tip, if you have one. (If you’re like me, you make do with a narrow spoon.) Fill the pastry shells with the ricotta cream, dust with confectioners sugar and more chocolate chips, and serve immediately.
There it is. Aside from messing about with the pastry–rolling it out and cooking it up in the oil–everything about this recipe is easy, and the reward is enormous.
I also bring cannoli to school for my friend Trisha O. She has been an educational technician working in my classes on and off for years, and does an awesome job. I like to appreciate her with pastry. And the occasional CD. But that’s another story for another time.